Nature Study with Young Children

I recently listened to a discussion on the iHomeschool network over on Google+ about incorporating nature study into a school routine. It was very informative and got me thinking about how we do nature study at home.
 
We’ve done nature study in some form or fashion since we started homeschooling three years ago, and I think it is an important part of our schooling. Families do nature study different ways and I think knowing the needs of your particular family and the learning style and personality of your children makes a difference in how you do nature study. How nature study looks in your home may also depend on the “season” your family is in.
 
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Local Classes
 
Classes are an excellent mixture of nature study and science lesson. There are often excellent classes offered at local nature centers, through a city’s Parks and Rec department, museums and botanical gardens. We often participate in homeschool classes at our Botanical garden and at the various natural areas around town. There is usually a lesson and some crafts/activities, as well as an guided nature walk through the gardens or natural area.
 
The resources listed below are specific for San Antonio but many cities will have similar programs available.
 
 
One program that we have participated in at our local parks is Growing Up WILD/Project WILD. I have even gone through training for this curriculum, and its great! It would be worthwhile to see if there is a Growing Up WILD or Project WILD program in your area.
 
 
Preplanned Nature Study Topics
 
There are wonderful resources available for planning nature study topics. One of my favorites is the site Handbook of Nature Study.
 
This is the home of Barb McCoy’s Outdoor Hour Challenge, a weekly “challenge” to get outdoors and do nature study.
 
McCoy has put together awesome nature study resources using Anna Comstock’s The Handbook of Nature Study as a guide. This book is wonderful resource and can be found free online. However, I think purchasing the book would be a worthy investment because it is a big book, and the free domain version is a bit cumbersome.
 
McCoy’s Handbook of Nature Study site uses this book as a guide to plan and organize topics of nature study. There is an abundance of activity suggestions and nature study notebooking pages available. Many of the resources are free to download as well as purchase in ebook format for a small fee.
 
Unscripted Nature Study
 
While we have enjoyed taking classes, as well as planning out what we wanted to look at on any given outing, Kyri has expressed interest in doing something a little less structured lately. She loves being outdoors, and wants to be able to just explore and follow where ever her interests lead her that day. 
 
We are putting together a field kit for these unscripted nature study outings. A few good field guides (we will be including Trees, Insects, Birds, and maybe Texas Wildflowers), a hand lens, a small notebook and colored pencils, and some bags and containers for (non-living) sample collections. A simple pair of kid’s gardening gloves, along with forceps and a small terrarium will round out our kit.
 
I have laid down some basic rules, especially as they apply to live specimens. The terrarium isn’t in the kit to start a collection of creatures at home. It is to hold a specimen for a short while to examine it, take some pictures, and possibly a simple sketch. Then, whatever she finds has to be released.
 
Between the natural areas, the botanical garden, as well as the parks around here, we have plenty of places to explore!
 
 
 
 

Our typical day with a 7-, 2- and 1-year-old

I know that homeschooling schedules are as varied as the people who count themselves as homeschoolers, but I always find it enlightening to see how other people manage their daily routines.

We are now halfway through our third year homeschooling, with our oldest being a 7-year-old second grader, and our two littles being 2 ½ and 1. We’ve also got a baby due this summer, which I am sure will require more adjustments to our school schedule.

We are year-round homeschoolers, but we do follow the “traditional” school calendar for some of our subjects, since we are participating in a small co-op that meets weekly. I also try to plan for a lighter schedule in the summer to allow for more outdoor, unscheduled activities.

We typically have two days during the week that we have activities. One day a week we spend our mornings at co-op working on science demonstrations and experiments, followed by a weekly park day with our local homeschool group. Since this keeps us out of the house most of the morning and afternoon, I do not schedule any “school” time at home. One day a week we spend a few hours at our local library branch participating in childrens’ programs and checking out books for the week. On library day I try to have a lighter school schedule that can be done in the mornings.

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The baby keeping me company during co-op.

The remaining three week days, I try to devote to school work and getting housework done.

With our 2-year-old becoming more independent and wanting more interaction and activities, we have struggled to find the perfect schedule that works for us for the days we are home. At the beginning of the school year, I tried to start school by 9:00 and allow for longer breaks throughout the day. We would work through one subject area, and then the kids would have a break to play and get wiggles out.In theory I had planned to use those short breaks to accomplish my own tasks, but between caring for our youngest and refereeing the older children, very little on my personal task list was getting accomplished.

After the holidays, we changed our daily schedule up trying to find something that fit our family better. So far our days are running smoother, though I am constantly looking for ways to further refine it and be more efficient and productive.

We are not a family of super early risers, so the first part of my day from 7:00 to 8:30 is spent getting my husband ready and out the door for work. The children typically wake up sometime during this time and either have breakfast or spend some time playing.

I split the remainder of our day into three blocks of time.

9:00 – 11:00 Household tasks, breakfast if needed

I now have our 9:00 – 11:00 time block devoted to household tasks. Dogs are fed, the dishwasher loaded, and some light straightening up of the living area downstairs is done. If anyone woke up late, breakfast is served. I try to cycle some laundry, and do any administrative tasks during this time period. If the kids are done their tasks, they have free time. I try to keep us screen-free until after 5 PM, so their free time typically consists of playing or reading, or some type of paper craft.

11:00 – 2:00 School work (typically Math, Language Arts, Art/Music Appreciation and or Logic)

At 11:00, I have our school materials for the day downstairs from our classroom and set up on the dining room table. While we have our dedicated classroom space upstairs, it is much easier with the younger children to do our work downstairs. We do math and language arts daily, history and science reading one day a week (not usually on the same day). A couple days a week we spend working on Hebrew, and depending on the day, we may do some Five in a Row reading, art and music appreciation and logic.

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Toddler tornado at a recent art field trip.

During our 11:00 – 2:00 block, both babies are usually awake and wanting some attention, so I try to have us cover subjects that are “interruption friendly.” We tackle math and language arts, and depending on how settled the littles are, we will get through art/music and any logic we have.

Short breaks are taken as needed, as well as a short lunch.

Around 2:00 our 2-year-old goes down for a nap, and if I am lucky our 1-year-old is either content to play quietly in his playpen or also falls asleep. It takes 30 minutes or so for me to get the 2-year-old settled for his nap, so this is free time for Kyri. Unless we have a lot planned for the day, I will typically not start back up until 3:00 so that we both get some free time.

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Break time between subjects!

3:00 – 5:00 School work (reading intensive subjects like Science and History, Hebrew)

By 3:00 we are ready to wrap up our school work for the day. We have a 3:00-5:00 block of time set aside for any remaining school work. I try to save our subjects that have a lot of reading for this afternoon block. We get through our science and history reading, and any narration we have for those subjects. We also work on our Hebrew. We don’t often work until 5:00, but I keep that as our end time  to keep us screen free until then. If we finish early Kyri has free time to do reading or crafts or playing, but I try to keep TV, computers and tablets off.

So far our new schedule this year has been working for us. We’ve been quite productive with our studies. I’m still trying to optimize my housework schedule, but that is a whole other beast to tackle. Having mornings dedicated to household tasks have definitely helped, though.

Our schedule will change again this summer when we have a newborn, and we start early preschool activities for our middle child, who will be turning 3.

 

Mid-year Evaluation

We just wrapped up our first week back to school. It was great getting back into our routine! We took an extended break from our studies at the start of the holidays in November. We kept up with our Science and History lessons for our weekly co-op, but for our other subjects I let Kyri decide what and how much she wanted to do. The lighter schedule did us all a world of good – we school year round so these breaks really let us recharge. But around Christmas, I was really getting anxious to get back on track.

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We’ve got a couple changes to our routine as we head into the second part of the school year.

History

It was decided, after some extensive discussion regarding the rigorousness of Story of the World Volume 3, to drop History from our co-op. Several of our members were struggling to keep up with the reading and found the material a little dense for this age group (our kids range from 5-9). Our family will be continuing with reading SOTW and some of the suggested reading, as well as mapwork and narration. I will not be doing  any of the activities at home – I decided that for us, crafts were less impactive for our history lessons. I am looking forward to our co-op focusing just on Science – there will be more time to go in depth with the subject matter each week.

Math

Until now, we have used Kumon workbooks for our Math curriculum. We work through several books each year, covering Addition, Subtraction, Word Problems and Geometry and Measurement (the catch-all subject, in my opinion). Kyri loves her Kumon workbooks, but I wanted to start using a curriculum that has a “lesson” aspect, rather than just problems. After extensive research, I decided to go with Saxon 5/4. Each lesson starts with a Warm Up, and includes a Math Facts drill quiz (which she loves) and some mental math. Then there is a short lesson that builds on previous lessons and includes example problems and a few sample problems to work. Finally there is the Practice Set, which is 20 – 30 problems, which cover material from previous lessons as well as new material. This is now our core Math Curriculum and we are covering one lesson a week. Kyri works on her Kumon workbooks as enrichment during the week as she sees fit.

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We normally stay on course for the school year, so this is the first time we’ve really changed things up mid-year. Anyone else making big changes to their school plans for the remainder of the year?

Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month.

I am using this month to focus on aspects of Native culture and history. I will be focusing on a different area each week this month and will share weekly posts on our activities and lessons.

This weekend we participated in an event at our local library branch, hosted by the Cherokee Township of San Antonio. The volunteers shared some history of the Cherokee Nation along with a traditional story about the corn goddess Selu and the mythology of the corn husk doll. Younger participants were then shown how to make their own corn husk doll.

This was a great event and an excellent start to our month-long study of Native American culture. This week we will be learning about the different tribes and where they were traditionally found. We will also be spending a fair amount of time on traditional stories and mythologies. Since my family heritage is Cherokee and Lenni Lenape, our focus will be primarily be on these two tribes. In upcoming weeks we will spend time cooking traditional foods, making crafts, and exploring the Cherokee and Lenape languages.

 

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Homemade Lemonade

As part of our Natural Health and Wellness course, Kyri and I have been reading and discussing healthy drinks. While we usually only have water and almond milk in our fridge, on occasion we have some juice or a sweetened drink like lemonade. Kyri prepared (with a little help from Mom) a pitcher of lemonade that we all enjoyed!

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[yumprint-recipe id=’12’] 

Do It Yourself!

Recently I started organizing (along with a friend and fellow homeschooler) a maker club here in San Antonio. There has been an interest in our homeschool circle for a scouting-type of program where our kids could work on STEM-themed projects, both on their own as well as in a group setting.

It took a little while to figure out what was going to work best for our group, but we have been really pleased with DIY.org.

This is a great website and I definitely recommend it! Don’t get your hopes up too high, though, parents. This site is only for kids and teens. Maybe someday there will be an adult version but for now, it’s just for young people. 🙂

This is a free website. There are a host of skills to choose from, and each skill has several challenges to choose from. Your child can submit video or snapshots of them completing challenges. When three challenges have been submitted and approved for a skill, that skill patch is earned. The Master Skill rank is earned for a particular skill when three more challenges are completed.

When a skill patch is earned, the patch shows up on your child’s Skills profile on the DIY website. Additionally, this skill patch shows up as “earned” in the online store, and you can order an actual patch that can be sewn on, well, whatever it is you want to sew it on. Kyri has told me she wants a vest for her patches so that is what we will probably get for her. But really, it is whatever you want to do.

There are a ton of skills to choose from, and more being added all the time. The challenges range from “newb” to “pro” so there is a wide range of projects your child can choose from. And the challenges themselves are open enough to where  your child isn’t sitting down following a boring set of instructions. They can explore videos online to figure out how they want to complete a particular challenge.

This program is working great. There are plenty of skill challenges that Kyri can work on at home on her own. And each month we get together with our DIY Club to work on a skill challenge as a group. We take videos and pictures of the projects our children are working on, and our kids earn skill patches for their hard work.

This is a great resource. You don’t have to be part of a group to participate, but it certainly is fun to get together with friends to work on projects together!

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Dissecting an owl pellet for her Biology Skill
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Finishing up her rain gauge for Meteorologist Skill

 

 

 

 

 

Our Homeschool Schedule

We’re in week 2 of our Fall school schedule and I wanted to share what a typical day and week look for us. One of the benefits of homeschooling is finding a routine that works for your family. After some fine-tuning this past year (and our toddler deciding on a regular nap schedule) we have found a schedule that is working.

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Co-op Day

One day a week we meet with our Science and History co-op. We typically spend a couple of hours with our group, and then share lunch and playtime at a park. I do not schedule anything intensive for before or after co-op. I have only scheduled Logic, Computers and Spanish on co-op days, since these are topics that can be done casually and with some self-direction.

Event Day

One day a week we schedule events – library, park, you name it. We have a ton of homeschooling opportunities here in San Antonio, and so one thing that I have had to do is make the decision to limit our outings during the week. I am trying to keep outings contained to one day a week to keep me from turning into a bus driver. If I can keep that to one day a week, I’m happy. The only book work I schedule for our events day are Math Journal, Handwriting and Spanish practice. These are items that are easily done at the table during breakfast or dinner prep with some distractions.

Work Days

The remaining three days are our work days.

Keeping in mind I have two littles to keep up with, I schedule our school day into two blocks. Each block runs from 2 to 3 hours, depending on how efficient we work and what our attitudes are like that day.

Each day during our Morning Block, we work on Math and Language Arts. One day a week we study Art and Music Appreciation, Civics, and Health and Natural Wellness. One or two days a week we also work on our Bible reading and verse memorization for AWANA.

These are topics that we can do with some interruptions and starting and stopping. I don’t have us scheduled for specific times (for example Math from 9:30 – 10:00). I find it works better for us to just have the material we are working on in the block of time, and it can get done in any order. I do try to direct her to do Math and Language Arts first, but ultimately I leave the order up to Kyri.

Our Afternoon Block starts around 2 pm, after I put babies down for naps. I purposely scheduled those subjects that need more attention and less interuptions for our afternoon block. I have a 2-3 hour block of time on our calendar, but like our morning block, it can run shorter or longer depending on our efficiency and attitude. Each day during our afternoon block, we work on Hebrew and our Five in a Row reading and lapbook activities. We also do our Science and History reading and narration (one or two days per subject, depending on need) during our afternoon block to prepare for the upcoming week’s co-op.

As you can see, I have a lot of free time on our schedule. Having a determined block of free time on the schedule serves as incentive for Kyri. She knows that if we don’t work efficiently or are having attitude issues, our school work runs into free time. She also knows that if we can get our work done in a timely manner, free time starts early.

This is what works for us, and I know every homeschool family is unique. What works for you?

 

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Our School Room

I am a firm believer that learning can happen anywhere. I don’t think you need a fancy classroom at home or color coordinated bins, or anything like that in order to learn. But I do think having a dedicated space, whether it is a room, a shelf or a nook in a corner somewhere, just for homeschool supplies, is so helpful for keeping organized and on track.

We have a spare room that works wells for a small classroom. We have a small card table, books shelves, and a white board. We have recently moved Kyri’s personal bookshelf and easel into the classroom, so that the space now doubles as the playroom. This works well for keeping Ender (our 2 year old) entertained while Kyri and I work on her studies.

I actually love doing our school work in the classroom because there are less distractions. But with two littles to keep up with (and four dogs) it often works out better for us to do our work at the dining room table.  However, having  a dedicated space to keep our books and supplies organized is absolutely essential to keeping our homeschool running smoothly. If we didn’t have the spare room, my shelves would be located in the dining room.

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We have a smaller shelf dedicated to school supplies: basic supplies such as crayons, glue sticks, paper and binders, math manipulatives, a multitude of flash cards, science equipment such as magnets. My office supplies such as hole punch and laminator are also on this shelf. I have another shelf (not shown) with bins of craft supplies, in our classroom closet.

The second smaller shelf is full of Kyri’s personal books, Leapfrog items, and musical instruments (triangles, train whistles, rhythm sticks, etc).

Our tall bookshelf holds all of our homeschool curricula and materials. Here I have each year’s portfolio binder for Kyri. We are starting Before Five in a Row with Ender this year, so there is a smaller binder for his work as well. While we have a ton of games tucked away on a closet shelf, I keep our logic games on our school shelf since we play those more frequently (you can read about the games we play for our Logic and Critical Thinking here).

We have a nice collection of books that comprise our personal reference library. We have gone through a couple rounds of downsizing with our books, but I think it’s important to have a core set of reference books for the children. Children’s dictionary, various children’s encyclopedias, bug guides, nature guides, etc. round out our collection.

I separate the curricula we are not currently using (either we have finished with it or it is for the upcoming year) from this year’s material. I have an entire shelf with workbooks, books, and curriculum guides that we are working from this school year.

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Finally, I have bins, one for each week day. I plan out the week, and then fill the bins with workbooks, books and printed pages. Each morning I can grab that day’s bin and have everything we need ready to go. This especially works well for working downstairs at the dining room table – I just take the bin to the table and have everything we need for the day without several trips back to the classroom.

For my school planning, I like to plan out 6 weeks at a time. I use hanging folders labelled for weeks 1 through 6 to hold printouts and materials. The Sunday before, I can then take all the material for the coming week and distribute to the daily bins. I also have a hanging folder for Math printouts. Because we use a Math Journal as a supplement, I try to collect printouts and activities from around the internet. I print pages off and keep in our Math folder. Kyri then has a selection of activities available to work on each week. I also have folders to hold printed materials that I compile for upcoming Five in a Row (FIAR) and Before Five in a Row (BFIAR) lessons. Completed schoolwork is placed in the “To File” folder for me to file into our portfolio binder at a later date.

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This is our school room. Even though we spend more time doing school work at the dining room table, our classroom gives us a space to keep our school materials organized, and it gives Kyri a place to go when she wants to work ahead on her own.

Be sure to check out what what other homeschool rooms look like! Head over to the Not Back-to-School Hop at iHomeschool Network!